The Minneapolis School District continues to lose students to charter schools and neighboring school districts — and most of those who are leaving are students of color.
The latest numbers show a loss of nearly 1,500 students last year for the district, according to a staff presentation made this week before the school board.
About 734 new students, who had been attending schools in other districts, enrolled into the Minneapolis Public Schools system. Overall the district’s enrollment declined by 743 students, which was roughly in line with what district leaders had projected.
More than 80% of those who left the state’s third-largest school district are students of color. Black students who left the district account for more than 50% of the flight.
Discipline practices, unresolved family requests, transportation and moving were the top four reasons parents cited for leaving the city’s school system, district leaders said.
While enrollment has been dropping for some time, Minneapolis school officials’ response has taken on new momentum.
Superintendent Ed Graff recently convened a task force to stem the flow of students out of the district and woo new families. At Tuesday’s meeting, task force members said there’s a sense of urgency to create a system that will stabilize enrollment.
“We believe that taking the steps required to change the climate and the culture of our schools to better retain existing students … will naturally increase our enrollment,” Graff said. “It will increase academic success and ultimately our student enrollment.”
A Star Tribune analysis found that one-third of school-age children in Minneapolis attend school outside the district. Many go to charter schools, but others opt to open-enroll in other public school districts.
Fewer students means less money overall for the district to operate. The loss of 743 students means between $5 million and $8 million less in revenue for the cash-strapped district.
The district recently pulled itself out of a $33 million budget deficit and any retention plans it implements must be financially sustainable, officials say.
The roughly 25-member enrollment task force has been meeting monthly since March to diagnose the source of the district’s long-standing problem of losing students. The group, comprising district administrators, school principals, and others, will focus on retention strategies in this first year of work.
Among the strategies and fixes included in the task force’s preliminary recommendations to the board on Tuesday: improving efforts to listen to and respond to families’ needs, crafting retention plans for schools and improving the district’s culture and school climate.
The task force has identified support for 25 schools with the largest drop in student enrollment. Most of those schools are in north and northeast Minneapolis. But school district officials said most of the black students leaving are from North Side schools. In an exit survey conducted by the district, families in flight said student safety, an absence of rigorous academics, and better treatment elsewhere were among the reasons they’re leaving.
The Minneapolis School District, like the state overall, has struggled for decades to close the achievement gap between white and black students.
Graff has made increasing the number of students a key part of his controversial strategic plan. A vote on the proposal was recently delayed from August to December after an outcry from parents and school staff, who said they felt blindsided. The new strategic plan calls for strengthening academics to lure about 6,000 additional students into the district, making sure that schools are operating at 70% capacity.
Meanwhile, some board members are blaming the city’s affordable housing crisis and the lack of equal access to programs for the drop in enrollment.
“Gentrification is happening in north Minneapolis,” said board member KerryJo Felder, who represents North Side schools. “Going forward, since we know that, we need to come up with a plan to combat that and help protect our families.”
Mauri Melander Friestleben, North High’s new principal and a member of the task force, said affluent and white parents have power and influence in the district that other families don’t have. When asked by board member Josh Pauly what the board should do to help the task force succeed in the efforts to retain and recruit families, Friestleben urged district leaders to level the playing field for all parents, regardless of their race and economic status.